It's a shame that we have to use past tense for an automaker that started life in 2007, but at least Fisker Automotive pioneered the luxury plug-in range-extended electric luxury sports sedan during its short existence.
Founded by designer Henrik Fisker, who penned poster cars like the Aston Martin DB9 and BMW Z8, the automaker launched its first product in July 2011. The Fisker Karma sedan was a media sensation when it came out. Its dramatic proportions, luxurious interior, sports car performance, and eco-friendly powertrain convinced celebrities that it was the car to be seen in — one year before Tesla Motors brought its Model S to market.
Under the Karma's sexy bodywork there was a plug-in hybrid drivetrain consisting of two 120 kW (161 hp) electric motors fed by a 20.1 kWh lithium-ion battery from A123 Systems, as well as a GM-sourced front-mounted 260 hp 2.0-liter EcoTec turbocharged four-cylinder engine used to power a generator that sent electricity to the motors. The battery could also be charged from the grid, offering an all-electric driving range of 32 miles (51 km).
So what went wrong? For starters, with a base price of around $100,000, the Karma was very expensive for a car built by a startup company. Then there was a series of reliability issues and bad luck. A car broke down during a Consumer Reports test, while some Karma vehicles caught fire (16 during the storm and flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy), resulting in bad press for Fisker Automotive and costly recalls.
The company was dealt another blow when around 330 Karmas were flooded in Europe at a port terminal before delivery to customers, with losses of more than $30 million as a consequence.
All these things plus dwindling sales led to Fisker Automotive's filing for bankruptcy in November 2013. In February 2014, the company's assets (minus the Fisker brand and trademarks owned by Henrik Fisker) were bought by China's Wanxiang, which formed a new firm called Karma Automotive. The Karma sedan lives on as the Karma Revero, which carries over the design and the plug-in hybrid powertrain.
Henrik Fisker's design also survives in the VLF Destino V8, a Karma sedan powered by a Corvette LS9 V8 engine built by VLF Automotive.